Beirut (Der Spiegel) As more and more Christians are leaving Lebanon, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, patriarch of the Maronite Church in Lebanon, in an interview with the SPIEGEL ONLINE, talked about the on-going Christian exodus, the future of Hezbollah and the influence of Iran and Syria on his country, stating that “Hezbollah has become a state within a state, with help from Iran. We can not accept”.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your Highness, what are you most worried about at the moment?
Hezbollah has become a state within a state, with help from Iran. That's not something we can continue to accept after the war.
Sfeir: The progressive devastation of our country. And the growing outward migration of Christians, who are not returning to Lebanon. We held out in the Arab world for 2,000 years, but now things are going downhill at a rapid pace. The current crisis is dramatically amplifying this tendency.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But Christians in Lebanon don't speak unanimously. For example, General Michel Aoun -- possibly Lebanon's next president -- has forged an alliance with Hezbollah.
Sfeir: Yes. Unfortunately there are also some Christians who make arrangements with Hezbollah -- if only for tactical reasons. It may be unlikely, but if Hezbollah should one day take power in Lebanon, the Christians will leave the country in droves.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does Hezbollah still have a right to exist after this war?
Sfeir: I support Prime Minister Siniora's peace plan, which calls for the disarmament of all Shi’ite militias. As soon as a cease-fire with Israel takes effect, as soon as the two sides exchange prisoners and the Sheba’a Farms are returned to Lebanon, Hezbollah will no longer have the right to maintain an army. Hezbollah has become a state within a state, with help from Iran. That's not something we can continue to accept after the war.
PIEGEL ONLINE: It's common knowledge that Iran takes a different view.
Sfeir: What does Lebanon have to do with Iran's problems? Our country mustn't serve as the one that makes it territory available as a proxy rallying ground and battleground for other states. Neither the conflict over Iran's nuclear program nor any other Iranian issues concern us Lebanese. Iran is a foreign country to us. All Lebanese should take this view.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Please describe your relationship to Syria for us.
Sfeir: What is true for Iran is also true for Syria. We refuse to tolerate proxy wars on Lebanese territory. The Syrian Golan Heights are as lifeless as a cemetery. So why should a struggle for the restitution of the Golan Heights be fought out in Lebanon of all places? We want orderly relations with Syria. That means Damascus must accept the demarcation of the Syrian-Lebanese border and release our prisoners. But today the greatest danger isn't coming from Syria, but from Iran. Iran is shipping weapons of all kinds into Lebanon, including rockets, and most of all a lot of money. How can an independent state be expected to tolerate that?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your Highness, you yourself come from the Palestinian territories. Hezbollah has always declared itself to be fighting for the "liberation" of Jerusalem. What responsibility does Lebanon have towards the Palestinians?
We can make peace with Israel only when all other Arab states have signed a peace treaty with Israel too.
Sfeir: Of course we wish for the Palestinians to have their own state on their home territory, just like we Lebanese have our own state. The Israeli occupation must end. But the struggle for Palestine cannot be fought from Lebanon, the smallest and weakest state in the Arab world.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: When will Israel and Lebanon live in peace?
Sfeir: We won't follow the example of Egypt and Jordan. We can make peace with Israel only when all other Arab states have signed a peace treaty with Israel too. ENDS LEBANON IRAN 15806
Interview conducted by Daniel Steinvorth and Volkhard Windfuhr and posted by Spiegel Online on 11 August 2006.
Highlights are by IPS.
Iran Press Service adds: On orders from the Government Iranian authorities organized on Monday 14 August street demonstrations, where demonstrators, mostly militias on the Government’s payroll, hailed the victory of Hezbollah over the Israelis, chanting “Khameneh’i The Leader”. (Hassan) “Nasrallah the Victor”. And on Tuesday, Iranian hard line President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad praised the Organisation’s – and the Lebanese’s – resistance to the Zionist regime as the “victory of the Islam nation” over the enemies if Islam.
He again called for Israeli, but also American and British leaders to be brought to an international tribunal for what he termed as “crimes against humanity and war crimes”.